"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne
-Michel de Montaigne
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Hell is a Cave. Hope is a Cave: Finding Inspiration in Unexpected Places
I'd never been in a cave before Sunday.
At the urging of a dear friend anxious to show us where he grew up, a group of six of us sojourned to Cave Spring and Rome, GA for a day of caving, lake swimming, and cemetery touring. I anticipated anecdotes about Joey's childhood while reapplying sunscreen, laughter over diarrhea-inducing Southern cooking, and daydreaming as our van lurched over stretches of bucolic hillside that made me want to leave Atlanta for some place simpler.
I got so much more than a sunburn, crappy lunch, and a Walden-pond moment. I was inspired by this little town in the middle of nowhere with it's little piece of Jurassic charm and Rome's historic hillside cemetery. They followed me home.
I didn't like the cave at first: it's incredibly cool and dank, the stalactites kept dripping on my bare shoulders and back (making me squeak in surprise), and I half-expected a Velociraptor to jump out of the darkness and snatch me by the throat it was so primordial looking because of the red light bulbs they had chosen to light certain angles. My friends decided to go down and explore a hole off of the path, and I stayed back deciding it was better left to those who had not been stupid enough to cave in a strapless sundress and flip flops.
Then I was left completely alone, in this ancient and smothering space--exhaling its cold minerally breath, curling into hellish plumes illuminated by the red bulbs, and the dark corners that stalked me, and the wet rock underfoot, and I started to feel a little woosey and freaked out and thought to myself hell is a big cave flooded with lava where all of us will go to burn and smack our bodies against stalagmites pushing up from the ground while bats nest in our hair, and then I saw carved into rock: Erin loves Michael.
Graffiti snapped me back into reality: someone's act of vandalism, an expression of love captured at one moment, hope ground into rock for posterity.
And I thought about people who lived in caves a million years ago and how fearful and urgent living was for them, and how a cave represented shelter and safety from the outside world. I thought about how even they made time to draw pictures of animals or daily life with blood or charcoal because there was this need for expression and beauty that was somehow essential and totally unnecessary, and therefore ultimately human.
I realized I was not alone any longer when I heard the peals of children echoing deep inside the cavern. And then my friends re-emerged from the ominous hole covered in mud and laughing about someone's butt being too close to their face in the dark, and I was happy. I sketched Cave Spring on the way home, and drafted poems about our graveyard walk in Rome.
And as we explored the rocks and took photos of molded tombstones, the time between generations and people seemed to meld together. Hope is a cave, too.